By Harold Hosein
Summer 2016 will go down as one of the hottest in Ontario in the last 50 years.But there are still a few weeks of summer left. So we will have to wait until the end of that time to determine whether it is actually the hottest on record in the province.
Memories, including mine, are sometimes unreliable and we tend to forget how recently similar events have occurred. For example, while we think of this summer as being extremely hot, so far, we have had 31 days of temperature 30C and above, but as recently as in 2005 we had 41 days of 30C and above.
The difference this year is that we had many of these days consecutively, so we think in terms of the length of the hot spell. Going back to 1959 we had 43 days of 30C and above, and again the number of consecutive days was shorter than the 2016 spells.
If we go back to the dust bowl years of the 1930’s, we will find even hotter temperatures and longer spells of consecutive days of intense heat. So far this year we had only one day at 36C in July, but as recently as the late 1980’s -’87 and ’88, to be exact – we had days of 37C and 38C.
In those years we had fewer vehicles, airplanes, homes and roads and industry. Yet they were hotter. So to suggest that man is THE CAUSE of the increase in heat is unfair and incorrect. Mankind is only PARTIALLY to blame.
Normally we get these very hot days one or two at a time but rarely three consecutively. This year we have been having longer spells. So it affects us more and we remember it more readily.
The basic reason for this occurrence in 2016 is the relatively high ( latittudinally ) position of the Jet Stream, allowing for tropical air to move much farther north than is normally experienced at these latitudes. In addition, the circulatory pattern of the surface systems has pushed tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico much farther north, and for longer periods than normal. Normally, as the surface systems move by the Great Lakes, we would experience one to three days of heat, then, as the cold front passes, we return to seasonal or cooler temperatures. This year, the track of these systems has allowed for longer periods of the heat, again connected to the more northerly location of the Jet Stream.
While there is chatter about El Nino and its effects, there is little chatter about what causes El Nino, very little chatter about undersea Pacific volcanoes and sea temperatures of above boiling in their vicinity. More research is needed, but the area is prohibitively large, so that will take many more years.
It’s left to be seen whether the next year or the ensuing years will follow a similar pattern. I know that the ‘Global Warming ‘ supporters will be anxious to suggest that the pattern will continue but they cannot be absolutely certain based on the information we have.
Global temperature is rising but this was also the case thousands of years ago when the glaciers melted, allowing us to live where the ice was previously 2-3 km thick. Earth was 90 per cent water, whereas today it is 75 per cent water. The sea level is rising, and over the next 20-30 years we may lose coastlines which are less than five feet above sea level.
In the 100-year outlook of sea level rise, if the current pattern continues, it is predicted that most of the Florida shoreline, the Mississippi delta and a large portion of the US east coast will be be under water but that is assuming that no earth movement occurs to change our topography.
Don’t forget that close to home, Lake Ontario was once very much larger than it is today. Its northern shore was well north of the city of Toronto along the Oak Ridges Morraine and the Bloomington Side Road.
In the Caribbean, many islands will lose significant coastal lands which are five feet or less above today’s sea level. Many of the islands have already suffered some coastal loss, if not permanently, at least during periods of high tides. This is quite evident on the Trinidad’s east coast and around Tobago.
We have only 200 years or less of proper weather and climate records, and about 7000 years of history from which we can deduce what happened before but Mother Earth is 4-5 billion years old. So to try to graph ‘current’ events in spatial time is a near impossibility.
However, countries which may suffer from coastal inundation should be initiating plans to alleviate loss and suffering for those who inhabit the coastlines and they should be considering relocation of roads and other infrastructure before they are forced to. With proper planning, we can find ways to live with the coming changes
(Harold Hosein is a meteorologist whose weather reports can be heard on Toronto AM radio station 680 News
He worked at Environment Canada before spending more than 16 years at City TV in Toronto.)